Idea of India`s Northeast: Envisaging a Common Future


By Rajkumar Bobichand In the political history of British India, the term “Northeast” is considered first used by the British rulers to identify a geographical area. When there was a plan to merge Assam with Eastern Bengal in the late 1890s and the beginning of 1900, there were proposals to name the new province as the “North Eastern Province”. Initially the term remained a geographical concept and throughout the colonial period the British rulers referred to Assam as the “Northeastern Frontier of Bengal”. Thus, in the colonial period the area what now constitute the “Northeast” was considered to be a frontier of the undivided Bengal that needs to be protected and defended militarily. Now, we all know that the Northeast of India constitutes the part of the world surrounded by China to the North, Burma to the East, Bangladesh to the South-West, Bhutan to the North-West and Nepal to the West as Sikkim is included in the constitution of India’s acting agency for the development of the region bypassing the contiguous areas of North Bengal (Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri, and Koch Bihar). The Siliguri Corridor in West Bengal, with an average width of 21 km to 40 km, connects the Northeast with the Indian mainland. With 98 percent of its borders with China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal, the region shares more than 4500 kilometres of international border. Alternatively, this part of the world can also be called as “Nowersesia” if we agree to derive from the North Western Region of South East Asia. Because this part of the world is ethnically distinct from the Indian mainland and has strong ethnic and cultural ties with Southeast Asia and East Asia. Culturally the region is distinct from the Indian mainland as the region could not be completely conquered by Indian Sanskritisation though there is little influence in some parts. Linguistically the region is distinguished by a preponderance of Tibeto-Burman languages. Physiographically also, the region is distinct from the Indian mainland and has a predominantly humid sub-tropical climate with hot, humid summers, severe monsoons and mild winters. The region is home to over 220 ethnic groups and their dialects with a population of 45,587,982 (2011 Census). The region has diverse natural resources, rich bio-diversity and enormous hydro-electricity potential, among others. It may be mentioned that in 1990, the NSCK (K), ULFA and UNLF in their declaration of the formation of a common front, Indo-Burma Revolutionary Front (IBRF) described this part of the world as Indo-Burma. The region had been part of the Southeast Asian but was cut-off from its traditional trading partners like Bhutan, Burma, China and Indochina. The isolation of the region from the Southeast Asia started during the British colonial rule. The region was totally cut-off from the Southeast Asia with the coerced merger of Manipur to Dominion India in 1949. But Manipur’s trading activities with Burma could not be stopped and India had to formalise it in 1994. The constituents of the region have been struggling with various issues and problems common to the region. Violent conflicts have been protracted for more than 60 years for restoration of sovereignty and formation of homelands within and without India. With the legislation and imposition of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the peoples of the region have been experiencing militarisation and violations of human rights perpetrated by the State forces and Non-State forces as the violent conflicts continue. The region is plagued with the underdevelopment of the infrastructures, lack of governance, exclusive ethnocentrism, and influx of illegal migrants thereby creating demographic distortions etc. The various parts of the region namely the Eastern Himalayas, Northeast Hills (Patkai Hills, Manipur Hills and Lushai Hills) and the Brahmaputra and the Barak Valley, Imphal Valley Plains are inseparably linked. Considering geo-political situation among others, coexistence of the different ethnic groups of this region is a historical necessity. However, the peoples of the region till now cannot be united and has not yet envisaged a common future due to various divisive forces from within and without. Only when travelled to Indian mainland and face racial profiling and discrimination by giving various names like Chinkee; sexual harassment by the mainland Indian and other grievances meted out to the peoples of the region, the peoples from this region seem to be united fighting for dignity and safeguarding their unique and distinct culture and identity. In other words, the struggles of the people of the region are mostly reactive. Significantly, a shift in the approach can be observed in the approach of the struggles of the peoples of the region for their rights. The apex body of the students bodies of the region NESO. Hundreds of students from the provinces of the region on Thursday, 7 June 2012 gathered on one platform, NESO to demand a special constitutional status for the people of the region. This was the first time that all the student bodies of Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura held a joint protest under the banner of the North East Students` Organisation (NESO) to demand a Special Constitutional Status for the people of the region. The NESO plans to move ahead to press for their demands. However, the big question remains – can this move help unite the region and envisage a common future?


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